El Nino indicators ease, still expected late 2012

CANBERRA Tue Jul 17, 2012 3:44am EDT

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Climate indicators for an El Niño event in the western Pacific have eased slightly in the past fortnight, but meteorologists still expect the weather pattern which can bring drought to the Asia-Pacific and damage crops to form late in 2012.

El Nino indicators such as the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), sea surface temperatures and trade winds have eased over the past two weeks, but are still close to El Niño thresholds, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday.

"This is a bit of a short-term blip, which is not unexpected," said Andrew Watkins, manager climate models for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

"We have to wait to see how long it takes for this weather event to pass, but we would expect things to continue around the weather threshold."

El Nino weather phenomenon could form as early as the third quarter of 2012, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said on July 6.

Japan's weather bureau, in its monthly assessment, said its model was forecasting a high chance of an El Nino developing between June and August.

The pattern typically brings below average rainfall for the Asia Pacific region, threatening the yields of agricultural crops, while America is often hit by wetter than average weather.

Global food production may suffer massive disruptions from the warming caused by El Nino.

Three years ago, it slowed development of India's vital monsoon rains, sparking a rally in sugar prices to 30-year highs as the No. 2 producer in the world suffered a poor cane crop.

Malaysia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer, may have lower output in 2013 if an El Nino forms and results in poor rainfall. China, a key buyer of overseas corn in recent years, may be forced to step up imports.

Australian wheat production could also be hit if the country experiences lower-than-average rainfall.

The formation of an El Nino over the western Pacific means La Nina conditions over the eastern Pacific, bringing unwanted rains and damaging crops in agricultural powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina. Brazil is the world's biggest producer of sugar, coffee and soybeans. Argentina is a major soybean exporter

The normally dry areas of Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer, could see floods due to a La Nina.

(Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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